Seattle Sober Coach: MOUNTAIN DEW (DON’T) Confessions of a Sugar Addict.
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MOUNTAIN DEW (DON’T) Confessions of a Sugar Addict
The street was poorly lit when the couple emerged from the shady discount food and beverage store. As they walked past a dumpster, long shadows hid a man lurking just outside of the weary street lamp’s yellowish cone of light. The dark shadow man shook with anticipation as the laughing couple moved past his hiding spot. A quick glance told him nobody was watching, and he jumped from his hiding place, landing directly behind the couple.
Startled, they turned in time to see a large caliber handgun pointing at them…point blank! The woman instinctively clutched her purse and her man at the same time, as she started to tremble. “Don’t hurt us…” she stammered.
“Yes, please…we’ll give you our cash…” said her boyfriend. “Just don’t hurt us.” He began to slowly reach for his wallet pocket.
Shadow man stiffened. “Stop!” He waved the gun towards boyfriend’s other hand. “Give me the soda.”
Boyfriend looked puzzled. “The…the soda?”
“Dammit! Yes man! The soda! Give it to me now!” He was shaking and holding out his free hand and making grasping motions. He shot a sideways glance at the woman. “Yours too. Now!”
The now totally bewildered couple nervously and ever so slowly handed over their newly purchased 24 oz sodas to their attacker, and waited for the next move. Shadow man shook even harder as he hefted his two liquid prizes to his mouth…gulping them down one at a time until nothing was left. He eyed them as he ran his index finger around the insides of each cup to be sure each precious drop of sugary soda was his. And then he was gone as fast as he appeared, in yet another instance of what Miami Dade news media had dubbed, “The Soda Bandit”.
Sound far-fetched? Well…..ok, I suppose. I mean, it’s not like sugar and sugary drinks can be compared to say…a crack or heroin addiction, right?! People don’t shoot up Dr. Pepper or Diet Coke, and they don’t pawn their aunt’s sterling silver vase in a Nehi Grape fueled binge. However…SUGAR does play a major role in food addictions, and there are similarities to drug addictions. Sure, a person will always have a root cause that formed their addictive behavior, and not all food addicts crave sweets either. However sugar has really come under scrutiny recently in connection with obesity, heart disease, and a host of other medical issues, as well as with those in the addictions counseling fields. Enough so, that a group of medical doctors even suggested that sugar become regulated so that it could only be purchased at pharmacies. Wow…now that’s an attention-getter.
So what exactly is sugar, and why do most of us seem to want and need it so much? How close is a sugar need to a drug need? Let’s find out, starting with the simple definition of “sugar”.
SUGAR – a sweet crystallizable material that consists wholly or essentially of sucrose, is colorless or white when pure tending to brown when less refined, is obtained commercially from sugarcane or sugar beet and less extensively from sorghum, maples, and palms, and is important as a source of dietary carbohydrate and as a sweetener and preservative of other foods
Sound yummy? Well why do we seem to enjoy the stuff so much? The answer is widely believed to be due to our prehistoric ancestors need for carbohydrates. They had to have energy to stay alive, and sugars gave them the carbs needed to fight off saber-toothed tigers or gather food. So their diet, including sugars, became a part of our human evolution. It is believed that our taste for sweets can be traced back to the time when humans were programmed by evolution to survive. And to survive…they needed carbohydrates, or sugar.
And now the world we live in is saturated with sweet, sugary foods. It is in all of our junk food, and in almost all of our popular beverages. So what’s the correlation between sugar, food addictions, and other addictions such as narcotics? There are similarities between them. Let’s see what they are.
To put it all together, you have to know what “Dopamine” is and does in our bodies. Dopamine is basically…pleasure juice! The brain releases a hormone called Dopamine which signals “pleasure”…which causes the brain to say…”LET’S DO THAT AGAIN!”. As we said before, prehistoric humans had to survive, so they had to eat. And when the body and brain discovered carbohydrates, or sugars, it found it to be a source of super high energy! So the brain released the hormone Dopamine so that the body felt great as they ate sugars. This ensured that the sugars would be eaten again. Now fast forward 100,000 years. We aren’t being constantly chased by things trying to eat us. But we’re still wired the same way…wired to feel great after eating sugars. Sweets. Mmmmmm! All of our junk food is laced with sugar. Guess what happens when we eat it? Yep. Dopamine! Your brain just rewarded you for eating in an unhealthy way. Not only that, but the brain rewires itself in favor of sugars over healthier foods. Exactly like the brain of a cocaine addict. It floods the cocaine addict’s brain with Dopamine during use. It also rewires the brain to want to use cocaine again, and again, and again.
So then, sugars and processed junk foods can have exactly the same effect on a person as drug abuse! Numerous studies have shown this to be true. Junk foods and sugar flood the reward system with dopamine, particularly a brain area called the Nucleus accumbens, which is strongly implicated in addiction.
Sugar also has some effects on opioid pathways within the brain, the same system manipulated by drugs like heroin and morphine. This is why highly processed, sugar-laden foods can make (some) people lose control over their consumption. They hijack the same brain pathways as drugs of abuse. “Cravings people talk of to describe wanting another hit of cocaine, or another Banana-Split are the same, basically. Cravings in food addictions have less to do with hunger, and more to do with the brain’s reward system. Also, MRIs in test subjects show that the same brain centers light up during the consumption of junk food, as with the use of drugs. Just like with cravings…”binging” occurs in both food addiction as well as drug addiction. Binge eating is a well known feature of food addiction, as well as other eating disorders that share common symptoms with drug abuse. And food addicts will binge on junk food for the same reason a drug addict will binge on their drug of choice…because they’ve become “tolerant” to the effects, and need their food in higher doses to get the same effect.
Sugars saturate our modern lives. Especially in junk foods and sweet drinks. It is interesting that lab rats were tested and would routinely switch back and forth between narcotics…and sugars. Food addicts are not only fighting against a root cause to their personal choice to overeat, but also against the addictive effects of sugars. As always, trained professionals must be used to diagnose the addiction’s roots, and to also work out that person’s recovery plan. Cali Estes, founder of The Addictions Coach is that person. She created The Addictions Coach to help combat any and all addictions, including food, of course.
Call the team at The Addictions Coach, they saved my life, for I was the sugar addict.
Client James F.
San Francisco, California